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The Transition of “Transitions”

April 17, 2009—How three students moved mountains to give IUP its first large-scale sculpture

Determination and Spirit

Transitions

For two-and-a-half decades, Transitions has served as a landmark for thousands of IUP students. John Bender photo.

The April 1984 edition of IUP Magazine’s predecessor, Oak Leaves, carried a message from university President John Worthen describing the determination of the three students who brought to the campus its first large-scale sculpture.

The 2008–2009 academic year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Transitions’ dedication on the campus. To two-and-a-half decades of students, the giant steel sculpture has always been there, a symbol of the campus’s growth and strength. Or, has its rust-like finish represented change in general? Tens of thousands of students have passed by the structure, and to many, it serves as a landmark—a place to meet and move on. What those students don’t know is that Transitions also symbolizes determination.

Nearly two years in the making, the seventeen-foot sculpture, made of steel fabricated into three “J”-shape portions, received its start in Professor Tom Dongilla’s sculpture studio as a collaborative project by Cynthia Bingham Biggins ’83, Suzanne Pequignot ’84, and Michael Hertrich ’82.

“When you come together in a group, you can do something bigger, you know. We started talking about the challenges of our times and started sketching. I can remember what it was like to be that age and how scary and daunting it was to have to plan the rest of your life. I love the name Transitions for that reason. We’re always in transition and transforming,” Pequignot said, noting that the sculpture’s lower portions resemble steps.

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Selling the Idea

Transitions steps

Students passing back and forth from residence halls to classes on the main part of campus regularly saw this view. Photo courtesy of IUP Special Collections.

The three students toted a two-foot model into Worthen’s office in an effort to sell him on their bringing the model to fruition.

“It’s funny, I think. When you’re eighteen, you think that anything is possible, and why shouldn’t it be? So it didn’t seem strange that we should ask to make an appointment with the president of the university,” Biggins, who now lives in Nantwich, England, said recently.

“They wanted to have this piece fabricated in metal placed on the campus. It was my sad lot to tell them that, although I liked their model and sincerely hoped to see more artwork around IUP, we simply did not have the funds to support such a project,” Worthen said in his 1984 message in Oak Leaves. “Often, when I throw the ball back to those seeking financial support, that ends it. But to these students, finding funds presented just a minor obstacle; they wanted to know how to proceed. And, proceed they did. It was a pleasure to watch student initiative in action. They followed up on every lead. They sold their idea to many fine people, who came through with donations of material, time, labor, and equipment. They planned and carried out their own fundraising projects. Finally, they supervised the fabrication and positioning of the sculpture. It is because of their creativity, initiative, enthusiasm, and perseverance that the sculpture stands on our campus today.”

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Raising the Funds

Transitions and cheerleaders

From a mid-1980s edition of the Oak, the gymnastics team used Transitions as an artistic way to pose for its yearbook photo. Photo courtesy of IUP Special Collections.

“One of the big gains for me was the chance to work with my roommates and friends on raising the remaining funds needed for the construction. Even after convincing various university groups to give us money, we still needed a large chunk of money—I think it was $7,000 or $8,000—so I was able to draw on my friends in catering to design and cook a benefit meal for a hundred-plus guests, musician friends to play during the event, roommates to waitress, etc. It was one of the highpoints of my life to have inspired so many different types of people to all work together for a common goal. I have real admiration for IUP, as it was able to challenge us to think outside the box, test the limits of our boundaries, and give us the skills and support needed to pull the whole scheme off,” Biggins said.

The sculpture also represents the generosity of several firms, which responded to the students’ perseverance. In response to a proposal the students wrote, U.S. Steel Corporation donated the steel (roughly seven thousand pounds of Corten steel that, according to Oak Leaves, rusts for several years and then seals, producing a rich brown color). Irvin McKelvey Company of Indiana fabricated the steel at nearly half the cost. Kovalchick Salvage Company donated the labor and equipment to move and place the finished piece on campus. Various other companies and organizations donated funds.

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Its New Home

Transitions on the move

To make way for the new suite-style housing, Transitions was moved from its location on the south side of Grant Street to the north side. It now stands upright in front of Clark Hall, but for several months, it sat on its side, awaiting the appropriate base. Keith Boyer photo.

Pequignot, who now owns and operates an art studio in California’s Bay Area, said she was the only one of the three students who worked on the construction of the sculpture.

“I had an amazing experience. The guys from Irvin McKelvey would come by and pick me up at five o’clock every morning. I learned how to weld and operate an overhead crane and cut metal,” she said. “It was a very empowering experience for me.”

The sculpture was originally placed along Grant Street, near the corner of Eleventh Street and at the top of the hill near the Tri-Halls. When the Tri-Halls were demolished to make way for Delaney and Putt halls in 2006, the sculpture was moved across the street to rest in front of Clark Hall.

“I'm so pleased that the school thought enough of it to go to the trouble of moving it,” Biggins said. “One of the places that we thought Transitions would look nice was in front of Sprowls Hall. I remember doing some mockups for it there. I’m delighted that it’s transitioning right along with the growing university.”

Note: A plaque on the base of the scuplture refers to it as Transition; however, both Biggins and Pequinot have assured IUP Magazine that the scuplture symbolizes the change all students experience, hence the plural Transitions.

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